Whether it’s pesto, pizza or chocolates, 70 percent of the food you buy in the supermarket today contains sugar. But is sugar really as unhealthy as the public debate often makes it out to be? What tricks do manufacturers use to replace it – and are the products really healthier afterwards? And what marketing tricks do food producers use to try to fool customers? Star chef Nelson Müller asked these questions and a few more in his ZDF “Sugar Compass”.
It wasn’t exactly new, but it was once again frightening how Teresa Lonnemann’s film brought to light how perfidiously food manufacturers are targeting children. When a family went shopping for a test, two children were allowed to buy whatever they wanted – and promptly filled the shopping cart with all sorts of sweets, often decorated with brightly colored packaging complete with cartoon characters. Oliver Huizinger from Foodwatch confirmed: The sweet heroes are exploited, and the sugared products are usually placed at children’s eye level in the supermarket.
“Sweetened yoghurts are typical cases where foods could actually be healthy, but the manufacturers add a lot of sugar and are still marketed as if they were recommended breakfast meals,” Huizinger continued to describe the problem. Some products are even sold in a version with a higher sugar content especially for children.
“The main problem is that children are used to this sweet taste. That shapes the sense of taste for life,” warned Britta Schautz from the Berlin consumer advice center. This increases the risk of secondary diseases such as tooth decay and diabetes.
But even adults sometimes find it difficult to distinguish between sugary foods and healthier versions. By mixing sugar substitutes with cryptic names into products, traditional household sugar is pushed down the list of ingredients. Hence the tip from consumer advocate Schautz: Always consult the more transparent table of nutritional values so as not to go online with concealment tactics.
The drinks check also caused astonishment among Nelson Müller’s test subjects. All testers suspected that cola was the most sugary compared to multivitamin juice, rhubarb nectar and orange soda. But you thought wrong: Despite the healthy image, the juice contains the most sugar. The result of another experiment was just as surprising.
One test group consumed the same amount of fruit raw, another as a smoothie, and a third as juice. Despite the same amount of sugar, it is healthiest for the body to enjoy unprocessed apples and co. With pure fruit, the blood sugar level stays higher for longer, the feeling of hunger only sets in later after consumption – and the potential reach for a sugary food is postponed. “Simple, unprocessed foods are the way out of the sugar trap,” Nelson Müller summarized the catchy motto.
Meanwhile, the 45-minute documentary dispelled the misconception that “zero” or “light” versions of soft drinks are healthier than their sugary counterparts. Synthetically produced sweeteners result in fewer calories, but because the body releases fewer messenger substances in response to the sugar-free drinks, there is no feeling of satiety – in short: hunger remains. In addition, the long-term effects of synthetically produced sweeteners have not yet been adequately researched. “It would be better to make the products less sweet overall so that people get used to a less sweet taste,” said Britta Schautz.
But the food industry never sleeps: in the Netherlands, Nelson Müller visited an ice cream factory that offers sweet treats with few calories and no artificial sweeteners. The ice cream is sweetened there with the low-calorie and naturally occurring sugar alcohol erythritol. This sugar substitute cannot cause tooth decay. As everywhere, however, it is also important to keep a moderate level here. Too much erythritol can have a laxative effect.
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The original of this post “Nelson Müller reveals: The food industry manipulates children so perfidiously” comes from Teleschau.